Concentration in Contemplative Studies

Concentration in Contemplative Studies

Concentration Directors

Harold D. Roth, PhD
Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies
Director, Contemplative Studies Initiative
Box 1927
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
(o) 401-863-3104
(f)  401-863-3109
Contemplative Studies Initiative

Ellen Flynn, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor
Psychiatry and Human Behavior
Tel: (401) 453-7955


The Scholarly Concentration in Contemplative Studies is a branch of the Brown University Contemplative Studies Initiative.  The Contemplative Studies Initiative is a group of Brown faculty with diverse academic specializations who are united around a common interest in the study of a particular range of beneficial mental states (deemed “contemplative”) that exhibit characteristics that include focused attention, deep concentration, and complete absorption in activity. We are involved in studying the nature of these states from a variety of perspectives that include their underlying philosophy, psychology, physiology and their links with human creativity.

Contemplative Studies in Medicine

In 2004, The World Health Organization defined health as a “complete state,” consisting of the presence of positive states of wellbeing as well as the absence of disease or infirmity.

Contemplative Studies is a cutting edge interdisciplinary and multicultural field that focuses on the possible uses of contemplative states and mental training practices to promote such “Complete Health.”   The use of contemplative practices, such as mindfulness, has been integrated into psychiatry and is now considered part of a “Third Wave” of psychological treatments and a standard practice in behavioral medicine. However, comprehensive training in contemplative methods, history, and theory within clinical contexts is not widely available and is typically cursory. In addition, contemplative methods in clinical contexts tend to be abbreviated and decontextualized from the traditions that created them. The Brown Contemplative Studies Initiative aims to study contemplative practice and states within their original contexts, as well as within the newer applications in science and medicine, in order to identify the most beneficial elements for health and wellbeing.

We approach this study through three large disciplinary areas: Science (the study of human consciousness and mental and emotional development within the context of neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology; the study of the mind and culture; applications of contemplative practices within clinical science and basic and behavioral medicine, focusing on how these practices contribute to improved mental and physical health); Humanities (the study of the nature of contemplative experiences in philosophy, the major religious traditions of the world, in world literature, in the classical texts of antiquity and in a variety of other related disciplines); Creative Arts (the study of the contemplative experiences in the visual and fine arts, creative writing, and in the various performing arts of dance, drama, and music). We study contemplation through traditional third-person approaches and innovative “critical first-person approaches.” The latter involve direct experience with the various arts and methods of contemplation.


Medical students choosing Contemplative Studies as their scholarly concentration will take the foundational course, UC 54 “An Introduction to Contemplative Studies” (offered on Wednesday afternoon, 3-5:20 in 2008 and all subsequent years) or its equivalent through a Summer Study Project, and at least two other courses that will be offered on Wednesdays during the student’s second year that include critical first-person approaches. These are the core courses of the Contemplative Studies Initiative. Please see our website for a list of the core course offerings for any given academic year.

Students would be required to include one or more Contemplative Retreats of their own choosing in the program. There are a wide range of possible contemplative retreat programs in the Massachusetts-Rhode Island area. These include the Kripalu Yoga Center in Lennox MA, The Insight Meditation Society in Barre MA, The Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Cambridge, MA and The Providence Zen Center in Cumberland RI. As a complement or an alternative to a tradition-based retreat program, students are encouraged to consider receiving training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, a widely used clinical program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness (MBSR), University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Students may participate in an MBSR course that is open to the general public, or a highly motivated student could participate in the Center for Mindfulness’ Oasis Program, a training for instructors that consists of a seven-day summer program followed by a flexible series of practicum opportunities that could be integrated into the student’s program.

Learning Objectives

  1. Developing an understanding of the newly developing field of contemplative studies: how is it defined? What are its major works? What are the ways in which it is relevant to clinical practice? How might a clinician answer patient questions regarding meditation or other “stress reduction” treatments?
  2. Establishing a comprehensive and empirically-grounded knowledge base of the scientific research literature on the effects of contemplative practices. Research has typically been divided into three main categories: Cognitive Neuroscience (effect of contemplative practices on basic cognitive functions such as attention, memory and synaptic plasticity); Affective Neuroscience or Psychiatry (the effects of contemplative practices on emotional regulation, emotional/behavioral disturbances and psychiatric disorders); General Medical Applications (the effects of contemplative practices on physiological systems, including neuroendocrine, cardiovascular and immune functioning).
  3. Understanding the types of contemplative practices currently under scientific scrutiny and having a firm grounding in the contemplative traditions from which they are derived.
  4. Understanding how to apply contemplative practice in a clinical medical context. This would be developed by student’s working as interns in a “Clinical Contemplative Program” with mentors from the larger Brown medical community who are using contemplative practices in their clinical work.
  5. Contemplative self-development: having the opportunity to engage in one’s own contemplative practice. This is an essential part of the concentration and recent research has shown very positive clinical outcomes showing reduced stress in medical students.


By the middle of Year I: the student will meet with the Director and possible Advisory Committee members to begin planning a program.

Summer after Year I: Student chooses one of two possible tracks:
Track A: Summer Study Project (8-10 weeks) in which the student takes a course (either an independent reading course or one in the Brown Summer school that could be developed) that covers the same ground as the UC 54 course, “Intro To Contemplative Studies.” The student would also attend the Mind and Life Summer Research Institute, a week long program that presents cutting edge research on the science of meditation. The student would also complete a contemplative retreat of 2-7 days at one of the area’s tradition-based Contemplative Retreat Centers.

Track B: Summer Study Project (8-10 weeks) in which the student takes a course (either an independent reading course or one in the Brown Summer School that could be developed) that covers the same ground as the UC 54 course, “Intro to Contemplative Studies.” The student would also attend the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course in the community or one of the instructor training opportunities through the Oasis Program for Clinicians at the Center for Mindfulness.

Written reports will be expected for either Summer Study Project.

By the end of the Summer of Year I, students will form an Advisory Committee consisting of the Concentration Director and at least one other member of the Contemplative Studies Scholarly Concentration faculty (see list below).

Year II: Student uses Wednesday elective time taking relevant Contemplative Studies Initiative courses:: The specific choice of courses will depend on which Track is chosen in Year I and will be made in consultation with Advisory Committee.  The Contemplative Studies Initiative will endeavor to have a range of possible courses taught on Wednesday afternoons to assist medical students. The following courses will definitely be offered on Wednesday afternoon in the 2007-08 academic year: RS 0500: “The Theory and Practice of Buddhist Meditation;” UC 54: “Introduction to Contemplative Studies.” In addition, a new course, “The Contemplative Life: Meditation in Psychology and the Creative Arts” (UC 55) is currently being developed. The student will also be encouraged to continue his/her own contemplative practice by participating in Wednesday CSI course “Meditation Labs,” occasional CSI Contemplative Retreats, and relevant Tradition-Based Contemplative Retreats. No later than the middle of Year II the student will meet with his/her Advisory Committee to decide upon the student’s Contemplative Studies Capstone Project, which will be interwoven into the student’s program during the next two years. Two basic categories of Capstone will be available: Scholarly Research and Clinical Contemplative Practice.

Years III and IV: Contemplative Studies Capstone Projects will be individually tailored by the student and his/her advisory committee based on student interest and scheduling constraints. Scholarly Research Capstones will result in summary statements of research in a given field. These will be fundamentally oriented to reading and writing about relevant literature and will not involve specific clinical research or practice. Students who choose the Clinical Contemplative Practice Capstones will choose a member of the Brown Medical Community who uses contemplative practices in his/her clinical work and decide upon an appropriate form of internship with that person. This “Clinical Contemplative Mentor” will oversee the student’s apprenticeship and will help the student chose a suitable Capstone Project, in consultation with the Advisory Committee. With both categories of Capstone Project, the student will be expected to write a summary of the work he or she accomplished during the past two years. This is not intended to be a “Thesis” level original research project but rather more of a report on the work accomplished.  However, should a student wish to do an original research project, the program will be pleased to support and accept it. Throughout these two years the student would be encouraged to continue his/her own contemplative development whenever possible.

Throughout the four-year program, the Contemplative Studies Initiative will hold events in which students in the Scholarly Concentration can share their expertise and experience with one another and the interested Contemplative Studies faculty.

Concentration Related Electives

BIOL 3710 N: Mindfulness in Clinical Practice: A Primer for Medical Students
BIOL 3710 N: Seminar in Mindfulness and Healthy Living

HMAN 1971 E: Cross-Cultural Approaches to Death and Dying 

Project Examples

Students will design a Contemplative Studies Capstone Project in which they bring their interests in doing a scholarly concentration in Contemplative Studies to bear on a particular problem or set of problems.  These projects fall into two basic categories : Scholarly Research Projects and  Clinical Contemplative Practice Projects. Examples of each category are as follows:

Scholarly Research Projects
“The Essential Neuroscience of Contemplative Experience;”
“The History of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and its South Asian Buddhist Origins;”
“Applying Contemplative Techniques to the Treatment of Eating Disorders.” 

Clinical Contemplative Practice Projects
“The Philosophy and Clinical Applications of Indian Yoga Techniques;” 
“The Clinical Application of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction to the Treatment of Depression;”
“Mindfulness Meditation in the Treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder.” 

Capstone Projects will be evaluated by the student’s Advisory Committee in conjunction with the Clinical Contemplative Mentor where relevant.

2010 Accepted Students & Scholarly Concentration Projects:

Student Project Title Mentor
Schmidhofer, Sarah Yoga for PTSD Dr. Geoffrey Tremont

Maximum Number of Students

We can train up to five students per year.

Faculty Mentors

The following CONTEMPLATIVE STUDIES INITIATIVE CORE FACULTY would be able to advise students in their concentration:
Michelle Bach-Coulibaly , Theatre Arts, who works with contemplative states induced through African dance and drumming;

Susan Bernstein , Comparative Literature, who works on contemplative aspects of post-modernist thought and literature;

Ruth Colwill , Psychology, who works on consciousness in animals;

Albert Dahlberg, Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, & Biochemistry, who is interested in complementary and alternative medicine, consciousness and creativity;

John Emigh , Theatre Arts, who often works with contemplative materials in his explorations of the various performing artistic traditions of the world;

Thalia Field, English and Creative Writing: a poet and performance artist whose works are grounded in the study of consciousness;

Forrest Gander, English and Creative Writing: a poet and essayist whose interests include the interplay of subjective and objective elements in the act of creation;

Paget Henry , Sociology and Africana Studies, who has studied, among other things, the contemplative practices of African and Afro-Caribbean religion;

Dore Levy , Comparative Literature, who studies contemplative aspects of Chinese literature;

Hal Roth , Religious Studies, who works on the early Chinese mystical tradition of Taoism;

Peter Scharf , Classics, who does research in Indian linguistics and philosophy;

Donna Wulff , Religious Studies, who works with contemplative practices associated with South Asian religious drama.

Furthermore, CLINICAL CONTEMPLATIVE MENTORS may be chosen from the following list:
Bruce Becker, MD, MPH; Associate Professor of Community Health; Attending Physician, Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital Department of Emergency Medicine.  Dr. Becker has completed research on yoga as an adjunctive intervention for behavioral change and is currently working on an NIH funded initiative using yoga as an adjunct for smoking cessation in women.

Willoughby Britton, PhD; Psychology Intern in Behavioral Medicine.  Dr. Britton’s research has focused on neuroscience correlates of varied states of consciousness and the effects of mindfulness based cognitive therapy on sleep and depression.  Dr. Britton is an instructor of mindfulness based stress reduction.

Michael Fiori, MD; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Director of the Alcohol and Drug Inpatient Unit, Butler Hospital.  Dr. Fiori is interested in objective measurement and neuroscience correlates of contemplative states.

Ellen Flynn, MD; Attending Psychiatrist, Women and Infants’ Hospital.  Dr. Flynn is assisting with the provision of a research project investigating mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) as a treatment for pelvic pain.  Dr. Flynn is an instructor of MBSR.

Brandon Gaudiano, PhD; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry (Research).  Dr. Gaudiano has expertise in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).  His current NIMH-supported research is to develop an adjunctive behavioral treatment for psychotic depression.

Neeta Jain, MD; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Attending Psychiatrist, Women and Infants’ Hospital.  Dr. Jain recently served as the medical director of the Mind-Body Program at Bellevue Hospital in New York.

Mitchell M. Levy, MD; Professor of Medicine; Director of Critical Care Services, Rhode Island Hospital.  Dr. Levy’s research includes the development of interventions regarding ICU care at the end of life.

Gary Epstein-Lubow, MD; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Assistant Unit Chief of Geriatrics, Butler Hospital.  Dr. Lubow’s research has included pilot studies of mindfulness based stress reduction for distressed family caregivers.  Dr. Lubow assisted as Co-Director of the Scholarly Concentration in Contemplative Studies from 2007 – 2010.

Maria McKay, RN, MA. CIC, Manager Infection Control and Employee Health; Butler Hospital.  Holistic Counseling and Consulting, Private Practice. Ms. McKay completed her holistic counseling masters degree at Salve Regina University and is currently completing the requirements for a CAGS in Mental Health Counseling.  Her interests are in helping people process grief using mindfulness and the body.

Barbara Ostrove, OTR/L; Director of Occupational Therapy, Butler Hospital.  Ms. Ostrove has initiated a Holistic Work Group with the initial goal of implementing and investigating a “Sensory De-escalation Milieu Project” designed to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint.

Keith W.L. Rafal, MD, MPH; Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine; Director of Healing Choices an integrative medical practice specializing in the management of Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain and the rehabilitation and treatment of other chronic medical conditions.  Dr. Rafal is Medical Director of the Rehabilitation Hospital of Rhode Island.  He is currently developing a new approach that incorporates the power of Belief and Intuition as the centerpiece of care.

Karen Ryder, M.A.; Ms. Ryder is a psychotherapist in private practice who is a former associate of Jon-Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness and a trained instructor of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. She teaches courses in MBSR for the Division of Behavioral Medicine at the Miriam Hospital.

Ronald Thebarge, PhD, MA; Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Psychologist, Division of Behavioral Medicine, The Miriam Hospital.  Dr. Thebarge organizes the department’s Spirituality and Religion interest group.  He is a board member of The Center for Mindful Eating.  Prior research includes use of MBSR with breast cancer survivors.

Geoffrey Tremont, PhD; Assistant Professor of Psychiatry; Director of Neuropsychology, Rhode Island Hospital.  Dr. Tremont’s research includes family interventions for distressed dementia caregivers.  Dr. Tremont is a Vinyasa yoga instructor.


Funding Opportunities (alternatives to Summer Research Assistantships)

At present there are no funds for summer projects other than the SRA’s.

Selected Bibliography


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  2.  -------. Zen-Brain Reflections. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006
  3. Barnard, G. William, and Jeffrey J. Kripal, Crossing Boundaries: Essays on the Ethical Status of Mysticism. Seven Bridges, 2002.
  4. Conze, Edward (trans.).Buddhist Wisdom : The Diamond Sutra and The Heart Sutra. Reprint, Vintage, 2001.
  5. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihalyi. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. NY Harper, 1990.
  6. Davidson, Richard and Anne Harrington eds., Visions of Compassion . Oxford and New York, Oxford U Press, 2002. (selections)
  7. DeWit,  Han F. Contemplative Psychology. Marie Louise Baird (trans.) Pittsburgh: Duquesne UP, 1991.
  8. Goleman, Daniel. The Meditative Mind. Putnam, 1988.
  9. James, William. The Varieties of Religious Experience. Reprint, Touchstone, 1997.
  10. Kabat-Zinn, Jon. Full Catastrophe Living. Delacorte Press, 1990.
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  12. Mair, Victor. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. Reissue edition. Bantam, 1990.
  13. Rosenberg, Larry, Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation. Shambala, 1999.
  14. Roth, Harold D. Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism. Columbia, 1999.
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  17. Thompson, Evan (ed.), Between Ourselves: Second-Person Issues in the Study of Consciousness. Imprint, 2001. (selections)
  18. Varela, Francisco, Evan Thompson, and Eleanor Rosch. The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1991.
  19. Wallace, B. Allan. The Taboo of Subjectivity: Towards a New Science of Consciousness. Oxford UPress, 2000.


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